The indoor track season was winding down, and fourth-year Appie Hirve's chances to blast down the runway were dwindling. But with several disappointing finishes behind her, it was clear that Hirve had saved the best for last. Leaping a mighty 11.52m, she jumped above her high school record, past the current University record, and into the ranks of the NCAA All-Americans.
"I started the season with pretty horrible jumps and was beyond frustrated at this point because I hadn't improved at all since junior year of high school," Hirve said. "I've had so many indoor meets at Henry Crown, and at the very last one I finally did it."
It was only February, but Hirve had surged back onto the triple jump scene. And when the Maroons seized the UAA title in early March, Hirve's prowess in the triple jump was a critical factor. While it didn't surpass her February Henry Crown record, Hirve's 11.42-meter jump at the Championship catapulted her to a second-place finish. Both this and her 11.52-meter finish met the NCAA provisional qualification, which meant Hirve would head out to Ohio on March 14 to face the top jumpers in the nation.
"I was the only person on our team to actually get to go to Nationals, and there was an online broadcast of it. I knew my parents and teammates were watching, and I was so terrified of just embarrassing myself again, but I trusted myself a bit more this time around," Hirve said.
This was not Hirve's first shot at national prominence. She had reached Nationals three years before, at the end of her first season at Chicago. As a first-year, Hirve left an immediate mark on Chicago's track team. In the first meet of her college career, she shattered the old school record with a 10.93-meter jump, and by the end of her second week on the team, she was named UAA Athlete of the Week. When March came around, she continued to astound, meeting NCAA provisional qualifications with an 11.45-meter record.
"I had the best first season of track that I could have asked for," Hirve said. "I think a lot of why I did well is because we really make track a team sport here. The upperclassmen were really supportive and encouraging and genuinely excited for their teammates' success, so they were great about getting us fired up for meets."
As Nationals approached, both Hirve and her teammates were hoping for big results. But Hirve did not even scrape her earlier records when the time came for the meet. Her 10.98-meter performance was disappointing but not wholly surprising.
"I was among several people to provisionally qualify for the national meet, but only two of us went, and that was a wreck. I'd heard that competing in DIII was like having an extended high school season. But I was totally mentally unprepared for my first national meet and completely tanked. It was embarrassing," Hirve said.
From the moment she joined the Maroons, one of Hirve's top priorities was beating her personal record of 11.45m in the triple jump, set in her junior year of high school. Reaching this goal turned out to be more difficult than Hirve expected. When her second indoor season began, Hirve seemed off-track. Despite more UAA Athlete of the Week appearances, she was unable to beat her first season distances. She managed to jump an NCAA-provisional 11.30 meters, but did not qualify for Nationals. Further complicating matters, Hirve studied abroad in her third-year, completely missing the indoor track season. Her high expectations and higher goals were stuck on the ground.
"I didn't improve second year, and then missed indoor track my third year to go abroad in the winter. I probably could have had a good third year, but that threw a wrench in things and the following outdoor season, I didn't even hit the provisional standard. Every other season I had, although it hadn't always been enough to go to Nationals," Hirve said.
With one year left, Hirve resolved to finish strong, and by the time Nationals came around in March, it was clear that she would make good on that promise. In front of a huge audience, Hirve readied for her final pass at the indoor triple jump. She was ready and well prepared, and with an 11.45-meter jump, she bounded into fourth place in the nation and All-American honors.
"The best part was definitely my phone buzzing for 10 minutes after I was done, when my friends and parents found out how I did. It was a pretty surreal experience," Hirve said.
Although she had beaten her old record back in February, the year was not over. Having bested her old personal record by a mere 0.04m, Hirve pushed one last time for a big personal finish. In the past, the outdoor season had not been her strongest arena. Piles of schoolwork and the fatigue of the year had kept her from any serious personal victories.
2008 was different. From day one onwards, Hirve hit the NCAA provisional standards. By the end of the outdoor season, she had advanced from an 11.51 to an 11.59 and was on her way to the final showdown at Nationals. With her high school record buried, the only question was how far she could go. Bringing a fairy tale ending to a fairy tale story, Hirve vaulted to sixth with an astounding 11.71-meter jump.
"This year especially, the personal success I had in track was really exciting and a huge part of my life. The high points I had really worked out well," Hirve said. "I knew I had a big one left in me."
With her career now in the books, Hirve attributes most of her success to her teammates and coaches.
"Assistant Coach Svoboda told me from the start that he thought I could win Nationals, even though I never actually believed him. Any meet where he knew I was trying to hit a qualifying mark or a big jump, he'd always get people to come cheer," Hirve said. "The jumpers from my year, Cynthia [Lin] and Somayeh [Jahedi], were always competing with me and it was a great feeling knowing the three of us could dominate any school in terms of points at conference. I'd always have my biggest jump when people were the loudest, and I know it helped all of us to know people were supporting us."
Despite her personal victories, Hirve has always been more impacted by the overall group. To her, the biggest achievement of her four years was not All-American, Nationals, or even breaking a personal record. It was finally winning the UAAs.
"If I could relive any track experience, it would definitely be the moment we knew we had won indoor conference this year. Our team is getting better every year, and it would be sad for people to lose sight of the team aspect of what is already a fundamentally individual sport," Hirve said. "It's going to break my heart to graduate and not get to be a part of something like that ever again."